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Elliott very concerned about increasing cases; North Co. Schools impose mask mandate beginning Tuesday
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Elliott very concerned about increasing cases; North Co. Schools impose mask mandate beginning Tuesday

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St. Francois County Health Center Director Amber Elliott is concerned about where the county is at right now in the pandemic.

There have been 874 confirmed COVID-19 cases so far this month and it’s not quite half over.

On Friday, the health center reported six new COVID-related deaths and 357 new cases.

“I'm very concerned about the amount of cases we've had in just this early part of the month,” Elliott said. “Because if that's any indication of where we're headed, in two weeks, it's going look really rough.

"Our hospitals are already (nearing capacity) and that's very, very concerning.”

There are 770 active cases; of those, 16 are related to the Department of Corrections outbreaks and 62 are related to long-term care facilities.

Since March 22, St. Francois County has had 4,193 cases and 36 COVID-related deaths.

The most recent positivity rate for the county is 24.7% for the first week in November. That’s up from 15.8% the week before and is the highest the county has seen during the pandemic.

“Unless we're all willing to make the changes that are going to be necessary and really think about what the holidays are going to look like, and be realistic about it, we're going to be looking at continued growth of the disease and spread in the community,” Elliott said. “We're already seeing it right now.”

She said the health center has laid out what the community needs to do to mitigate the spread: wear a mask, social distance, and good hand washing, etc.

“We need people to do them,” she said. “Otherwise, we can't keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. So we're going to continue to see cases.”

She is imperative to practice these measures to prevent the overwhelming of the healthcare system because a surge is already happening.

The news this week of a vaccine possibly being ready by the end of the year, Elliott said, is a glimmer of hope.

“I think that’s a positive thing as we're heading into some pretty dark times with the amount of cases that are being reported across the state,” she added.

With reports of St. Louis imposing new restrictions on restaurants and gatherings, Elliott said she is not aware of any discussions like that happening in the county.

“That would have to come from county commission or the board of health,” she explained. “And it's going to have to be supported by the community to make that work.”

Elliott said she had a call with the schools in the county on Friday morning after Governor Mike Parson released new quarantine guidelines on Thursday.

The guidelines would allow a close contact of a positive case to continue to be at school if both they and the positive case were wearing masks during the exposure and if they don’t have any symptoms. The hope is that this will cut down on the time students have to miss being in school.

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“The health center plans to fully support the schools and that is their decision,” Elliott said.

The North County School District announced on Friday afternoon that they will be enforcing a mask mandate, starting on Tuesday.

“Districts must have a mask mandate in place in order to implement the new quarantine guidelines,” the letter from Superintendent Dr. Jeff Levy said.

According to the letter students in third through 12th grades will be required to utilize face coverings in the following situations:

  • Face coverings/masks are required to enter any building in the North County School District for adults and visitors both during the school day and at after school events.
  • North County students in third-12th grades will be required to wear face coverings/masks all day when they are within six feet of any adult or student.
  • Students will be required to wear masks or face coverings when: on school transportation; in passing times such as hallways and crowded common areas and in classrooms; social distancing can’t be maintained such as working in small groups or in close proximity with a teacher or medically fragile student; directed by the teacher or school leadership teams.
  • Students in preschool to second grade may be required to wear a mask when working in small groups with students or teachers, when social distancing is not possible, or when medically fragile students may be present.
  • Teachers will use their best judgment to instruct students as to when it is appropriate to remove face coverings. When masks and face coverings are necessary, teachers will give students mask breaks whenever possible.
  • Staff will be required to wear face coverings/masks when in common spaces and when social distancing can’t be maintained, such as in small groups. Teachers will not have to teach in a face covering/mask when social distancing can be maintained.

Masks and face coverings will not be worn in the following situations:

  • During recess or during physical activity such as PE.
  • During athletic activities.
  • When students/staff have a medical reason that will not allow them to wear a mask. (Please work directly with your building principal.)

Next week will be Elliott’s last week at the health center. Assistant Director Tanya Pitts will take over as interim director while the board of health looks for a permanent replacement. She has been with the health center for seven years. She has been the assistant director since June and was the interim assistant director three months before that.

Presbyterian Manor update

Farmington Presbyterian Manor announced on Friday that two essential health care workers, one non-direct care employee and one health care resident, have tested positive for the virus.

According to the release, the facility tested all employees and residents on Monday and tested employees again on Wednesday as part of their outbreak and surveillance testing. All other results are negative.

One essential health care employee last worked Wednesday. The other essential health care employee was last at work on Nov. 6. The non-direct care employee last worked Wednesday. All screened in and wore personal protective equipment while working.

The St. Francois County Health Center has been notified and the facility plans to continue with mass testing. The next scheduled testing date is Monday.

Ste. Genevieve update

The Ste. Genevieve County Health Department Board of Directors announced on Friday that the planned public meeting on COVID-19 has changed to a public online meeting.

As a result of this decision, the public meeting scheduled for Tuesday at the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center has been cancelled.

“Interest has been such that a virtual meeting will offer greater opportunity to discuss COVID in our community,” their Facebook update said.

The date and time for the virtual meeting will be shared in social media.

The health department reported 23 new cases on Friday. The county now has 52 active cases and 846 total cases.

Nikki Overfelt-Chifalu is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at noverfelt@dailyjournalonline.com.

“I'm very concerned about the amount of cases we've had in just this early part of the month. Because if that's any indication of where we're headed, in two weeks, it's going look really rough."

Amber Elliott, director of St. Francois County Health Center

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